From Matthew Vaughn, with love.
Kingsman: The Secret Service is a lively, dashing and amusing motion picture that smartly spoofs and slyly celebrates the James Bond spy-film franchise. Based on the graphic novel The Secret Service, the cheeky but compelling-enough thriller from the Kick-Ass and X-Men: First Class filmmaker Vaughn (the son of an English aristocrat and a husband to a German supermodel) also takes a blunt stab at British snobbism, with a talented but lower-class young fellow as an aspiring international man of mystery.
That would be Unwin – Eggsy Unwin, a son of an operative but not an unlikely candidate to carry a poison pen himself. He's played charismatically by Taron Egerton, an English actor with whom you are currently unfamiliar. This should change.
Those with any awareness about the world of shaken martinis, colourful villains and inefficient henchmen will catch on fast to the Bondsian allusions – a mannered gun pose here; Sean Connery in C Minor music there. There are gadgets galore, but not kitties galore. (Eggsy befriends an adorable pug he names "J.B.," not after the big-screening James Bond or Jason Bourne, but television's time-pressed Jack Bauer.)
The excellent Colin Firth is Harry Hart, a long-time member of a wealthy crime-fighting operation unaffiliated with any government. Code-named Galahad – Kingsmen are named after the knights of the Round Table – Hart is the natty chap who grooms Eggsy as a gentleman spy. At the underground espionage academy, Eggsy is up against others, some of whom are privileged jerks.
Firth as Hart is an elegant killer – a right Gene Kelly, dancing with a bulletproof brolly. Speaking of choreography, Hart's nemesis is Richmond Valentine, played by a jaunty, lisping Samuel L. Jackson. Like any Ian Fleming rogue megalomaniac worth his weight in idiosyncrasies, gold and good manners, he tangos with his suave secret-agent counterpart.
But here comes the fun: Valentine brings up classic spy-action genre, mentioning cliché elements and then dismissing them. "This ain't that kinda movie," he says. Maybe not, but Valentine does have the requisite lair, exotic sidekick killer and outlandish scheme. He's a tech billionaire and disheartened ecocampaigner whose desire to save Earth involves a deep culling of the population. The exaggerated plot involves the kidnapping of celebrities and dignitaries, and a mind-warping mobile app designed to induce a worldwide murderous rage among citizens.
We get a mid-movie taste of the mayhem, complete with slo-mo slaughter set against the best Lynyrd Skynyrd soundtrack choice since Saturday Night Special from The Longest Yard.
I won't tell you if the Valentine's Day massacre happens, but I can say that a naughty princess gets it in the end. And that Kingsman, in the end, is an appealing film about upward mobility and learned nobleness that nearly rises to a 007 level – a classy comic homage, with a fanfare finale that is literally mind-blowing.